ROGA Executive Director: US sports betting facing an 'important inflection point'

Dr Jennifer Shatley, Executive Director of the Responsible Online Gaming Association, says an evidence-based approach to advancing responsible gaming is vital to the future of online gaming.

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The sports betting and gaming industry is facing an important inflection point. One of the fastest-growing forms of entertainment in the country, the industry's rapid expansion has brought with it a growing emphasis on safeguarding players’ wellbeing. While individual industry members have made tremendous strides in creating and promoting their own responsible gaming (RG) programs, certain aspects are better addressed as a combined effort. 

To that end, seven of the country’s largest online gaming operators – BetMGM, bet365, DraftKings, Fanatics Betting and Gaming, FanDuel, Hard Rock Digital and Penn Entertainment – recently joined together to form the Responsible Online Gaming Association (ROGA) and committed more than $20m to support the Association’s work in the first year. This is an unprecedented investment toward a collective approach to the advancement of responsible online gaming.  

Having spent 25 years in the field driving the development and innovation of multiple “firsts” in the responsible gaming sphere, I am humbled and excited to mark another “first” by serving as ROGA’s Executive Director. 

This is no “marketing stunt” meant to address a public relations problem as some have implied, but rather a meaningful effort to drive forward substantive initiatives by companies that represent 85% of the legal market

Throughout my career, I have watched RG evolve and I firmly believe that responsible gaming programs are crucial to the sustainability of the industry itself. As online gaming grows more popular, we must prioritise player wellbeing and empower consumers to make informed decisions about how, where and under what circumstances they play, while giving them the tools to do so.

That begins by understanding that responsible gaming programs are prevention programs, with their primary focus to prevent problematic gambling behaviours. That means the target audience for these programs is the entire customer base. Unfortunately, the perception persists that responsible gaming programs are problem gambling programs, designed only for those who are experiencing problems related to their gambling. Conflating the two undermines prevention efforts.  

When consumers view these programs through the prism of problem gambling, many ignore the RG information and tools because they don’t view themselves as having a problem. This means the majority of customers – who are the intended target of RG programs – ignore these prevention efforts. Yet the industry currently lacks a cohesive RG approach that is based on science and research, into what makes the most effective and engaging online RG program. That is partly due to the reality of developing RG practices. It is a complex endeavour that requires an in-depth understanding of consumer behaviour, a commitment to evidence-driven strategies, and ongoing study and evaluation.

Aligned with evidence-based RG policies, ROGA will establish an independent certification program that will assess members’ responsible gaming efforts to provide operators with an objective evaluation of their RG policies and procedures

 This is why one of the key areas on which ROGA will focus is advocating for and funding independent, rigorous academic research into responsible gaming-related issues, including ways to promote positive play behaviours and effective methods to increase engagement with RG tools and information. This research will guide ROGA in the creation of evidence-driven best practices as it encourages their adoption and implementation across the industry. 

Aligned with evidence-based RG policies, ROGA will establish an independent certification program that will assess members’ responsible gaming efforts to provide operators with an objective evaluation of their RG policies and procedures. This program will help operators track their efforts while giving consumers information about the RG programs and tools that individual operators are providing.

ROGA is also committed to creating a database – via an independent clearinghouse – that will facilitate information sharing, allowing a mechanism for industry-wide protection of consumers. 

Through this industry-wide partnership, ROGA is poised to make a significant impact by collaborating with researchers and experts to deepen our understanding of effective responsible gaming measures and enhance existing programs. This is no “marketing stunt” meant to address a public relations problem as some have implied, but rather a meaningful effort to drive forward substantive initiatives by companies that represent 85% of the legal market. 

Responsible gaming programs are prevention programs, with their primary focus to prevent problematic gambling behaviours

It's critical that, as an industry, we continue to evaluate and innovate our approach to promoting responsible gaming. While RG practices are already in place at individual operators, ROGA has been created to ensure that we use the most up-to-date research and tools at our disposal to enhance consumer protections and empower players – through effective responsible gaming education, programs, and tools – to keep gaming a fun and recreational experience, just as it’s meant to be. 

Dr. Jennifer Shatley, an innovative responsible gaming executive with more than 25 years’ experience in the field, serves as Executive Director for the Responsible Online Gaming Association (ROGA). 

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